POSTED: 06:14 PM MDT Apr 24, 2015 UPDATED: 06:45 PM MDT Apr 24, 2015
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - The Air Force Academy unveiled a Prisoner of War memorial Friday to honor 33 USAFA graduates who were POWs in Southeast Asia.
Nineteen POWs were in attendance along with relatives of deceased POWs.
The memorial depicts the torture the airmen endured, as well as their courage and unwavering pride. POWs each selected a single word that helped them through the toughest times. Many of the words are shown on the memorial below the image of a man bound with his arms behind his back. The man has an extended middle finger in a show of defiance. Names of each POW are engraved on a wall facing the memorial.
Edward Mechenbier was a Prisoner of War for nearly six years and retired from the Air Force as a major general. He said the word "loyalty" was the most relevant to his mantra while being held captive.
"Loyalty to all the things that make us who we are," Mechenbier said. "Faith in your god, faith in your country, faith in your fellow man, faith in those with whom you serve."
The memorial is meant to serve as a reminder to current and future cadets at the USAFA that freedom isn't always free. The POWs spent Thursday connecting with 1st and 2nd class cadets, many of whom were in attendance at Friday's memorial dedication ceremony.
"I thought the ceremony was very humbling," said Cadet 2nd Class Staci Colbacchini. "It's more than just a college. Serving is more than just a job. It's really a duty, and you have to be ready for it."
"It's about understanding that you can do, you can endure, you can perform way beyond your own expectations of yourself," said Mechenbier. "People look at our experiences and say, 'Oh, I could never do that.' We were not volunteers. We were just products of a training system, products of a culture where we said, 'This is our job and we're going to do it.'"
Academy officials said the memorial dedication ceremony was the largest group of Academy POWs to attend any Academy event.
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